All Work and No Play, Per Gray

MUST read this piece first to play along: Instead of “Job Creation,” How About Less Work? Increased automation has not reduced our workload. Why not? What if it did? Posted Nov 26, 2016 Peter Gray

This is such a utopian view of a “what if” future perfect that most sane and logical people immediately pooh-pooh it. That’s why I like it. Most of the “we can’t because” boo-birds bring up are excuses, not reasons. But it does take some incredibly visionary thinking to see the possibilities. And it will take some serious work toward big changes to seize the big opportunities.
Gray traces our devolution from hunter-gatherers to beasts of burden serving the 20th century economic model, through the ever-evolving current reality and re-birth where a hunter-gatherer society of child-like play may make sense again.

So, what’s wrong with work?

Start with the disappearing concept of “adding value”. Value to what? Value used to be defined as a product or service that someone would be willing to pay for. But “stuff of value” is more and more produced with high-efficiency automation and very little human labor. What good are we if we aren’t kept busy making or doing value-adding “stuff”?

People must still work for a paycheck to support their families, right? A new generation of work has come along—IT, bottom feeder leisure industry (computer-based games, home entertainment… most folks can’t afford high-end diversions), service jobs (root word: “serve” as in subservient). Financial and insurance sectors have huge numbers of people doing administrivial work—collecting and analyzing mountains of data, creating and issuing all kinds of reports for unknown “users” who immediately delete the work, pushing all kinds of non value-adding info that is intended to help manage something somewhere that actually has “value”. But what value does money and information by itself have? It’s the use of those things that adds value. Armies of other administrators’ existence is somewhat justified because it takes an army to make sense of inefficiencies, disorganization and an overkill of rules and regulations, and it takes a badgillion customer service reps working 24 / 7 trying to keep customers from becoming mass murderers because of those inefficiencies. (why am I thinking “Idiocracy”?)

Huge corporate law firms with huge staffs help huge corporations get away with working huge loopholes in the system to make huge profits so they can pay huge legal fees. The whole loop exists to enable generating non-product with no value. Another army—hired hitmen, lobbyists whose purpose is to grease gears and palms so all that artificial non-value is easier to generate and hoard. A famous longhaired progressive activist once chased money-changers out of the temple. We need another. Oh, just one more army: market researchers, the advertising industry and feet-on-the-street (and cyberspace) sales folks hell-bent on manipulating markets (people!) and packaging and selling non-value stuff.

One of the fads of the process improvement world was “customer focus”–identify customers and what was important to them—their expectations, needs and wants. Then do what’s needed to meet those criteria. The idea was that it would make workers more conscious of what they were doing if there was a real person at the end of their process chain. But what if there was no real person at the end of the chain? Or what if the customer really didn’t care about what you produced, but they had simply been conditioned to buy, buy, buy anyway?

Too many working adults are stuck in a job they can clearly see has no real value in furthering the greater social good, or impacting the grand scheme of things in any way. Work with no purpose. But humans need purpose, need meaning, need to feel they’re making a difference. When there is no purpose, it’s natural for people to get jaded, cynical, uncaring, worn down, worn out, quit, die. We’re dying. What if those stuck in no-value, no-purpose work were redirected toward providing something the world wants and needs? Their individual mojo would be rejuvenated, as would the world’s.

If the Goal is Less Work and More Play, Then What Needs To Change?
Not Much–Just a Few Silly Attitudes and Minor System Tweaks

A few thoughts for starters….

  • Redefine “work” as something with real purpose that adds real value for others and / or improves the condition of the world and / or society. As technological advances and automation takes care of the menial stuff, working on further technological advances adds value because it frees up humanity’s time!
  • No more “I am my job, I am nothing without my job” thinking. Work is a means to a greater end unless a person’s work is something they enjoy that happens to make the world, society, others better. (remember the old Venn diagram on “job happiness”?) My life’s work is to eliminate violence and bullying by championing social-emotional development.
  • Rethink and expand the meaning of “value” from being only a thing / material $$$ transaction-driven concept. Social value and artistic / aesthetic value, environmental and ecological value!
  • Redesign the monetary distribution model of “work 40 hours (or more) to earn your paycheck”. Why does 40+ hours of “work” constitute “full-time employment” anyway?
    There’s not enough meaningful work to go around, because our priority and our passion is profit-generating work. But there’s tons of meaningful “work” opportunities– community, social, environmental, infrastructure things needing attention. Engage people in doing good things, and pay them accordingly. While we’re at it, reinvent “pay”. Money has no value on its own but we literally kill ourselves and others over it. Broader: “currency” is something that is used as a medium of exchange. Exchange of what, for what?
  • Redefine “affluence” from having a lot of stuff for its own sake, to having what you need to be happy…how about “sufficience?” Move past the mindless pursuit of a high standard of living and focus on quality of life instead, starting with defining the individual’s values-based vision of “fulfilled” then right-sizing needs accordingly. Prerequisite: redefine what level of “success” is socially acceptable. So it comes down to an individual values and social perception shift;
  • Rethink brick-in-the wall forced education and the standard curriculum that makes school labor –tedious, compulsory work. Learning should be fun, should come naturally. Same with work;
  • Ditch crass capitalism and profit for its own sake. Demote the 1% and elevate the 99%.
    Scrap our material and transaction-based economy and the norms that go with it, norms like “work hard, get paid, get lots of stuff, support family, be a prolific provider”. Break the trance-the marketing / advertising-driven thirst for conspicuous consumption, material affluence, accumulating stuff that has no real value (see Jagger Consulting’s “Satisfaction” piece);
  • Re-invent corporate entities with the sole purpose of generating profit for investors, corporations with no value-adding meaning justifying their existence! OOPS, need to re-think investors and the investments industry, and making money playing “the market”. There’s those money-changers again! Thinking out loud: how about a reinvestment tax credit, investing in and diverting corporate profits to an approved fund to be used for the greater good?
  • Reinvent government by the people, for the people with people and planet as top priorities;
    Bring back the institutions of Santa Claus and the tooth fairy…

This sound like capitalism must go. I agree, partially—capitalism in its current form is destructive. Money is OK, money does no evil. What people do or don’t do with it is the issue. Let’s get our really smart business people and economists busy reinventing capitalism!)

Gray closes with a challenge: So, instead of trying so hard to preserve work, why don’t we solve the distribution problem (getting paid for a 40hr week as the only way to do things), cut way back on work, and allow ourselves to play?
Good question.

WHAT’S YOUR ANSWER?

“Solving the distribution problem” isn’t a cakewalk and there’s lots of other stuff that needs to happen too. I’ve shared my quick take of what needs to change just for starters. What’s missing? And how in the world are we going to do all that? Think about these bullets as goal statements then brainstorm: “what’s it gonna take?” And remember, one of the ground rules of brainstorming is “never say it can’t be done.”

(BONUS) Sneak Peek at Klitgaard: a look at basically the same thinking, slightly different angle.

Many people, affluent and poor, lead hectic and harried lives, struggling at jobs devoid of meaning and often socially and environmentally counterproductive (such as weapons manufacture, hydraulic fracturing, or financial speculation) in order to command a paycheck. In a sustainable society, work should be meaningful as well as steady and productive. Meaningful work allows people to unite their heads, their hands, and their hearts. People should have a say in the design of what they make or do, a variety of challenging tasks, and the opportunity for self-direction.
Unfortunately, the logic of capital accumulation has created work that is much the opposite—routine, without mental exercise, let alone purpose or joy—all in the name of producing more goods and services at ever-lower cost.
The Struggle for Meaningful Work

UPDATE: Johan sent a graphic with his reply (below). Since pics cannot be included in replies here it is! I’d like to suggest that on the “Child” side “work” and “play” are more overlapping and very possibly concurrent!

Johan Work and Play

 

Chillin’–A Personal Well-being Primer

Hey Activists….saving the world starts with me dropping one pebble at a time into one pond at a time.

Chillin’ objective: provide a people-friendly, WIIFM-intensive, non-threatening introduction to scientifically validated, self-care disciplines. It’s not weird old hippie stuff, not excruciatingly painful yoga, not mantra-chanting incense-burning meditation, not falling into a self-induced trance from candle-gazing. All of that is too strange for most to even think about trying. But most people don’t realize the damage done by physical and emotional pressures they may not even be aware of. Just as most don’t realize the incredible benefits of actively managing their mental-emotional and physical well-being, and don’t know how easy it can be.

What if there was a way to hit a reset button, neutralizing emotional and physical stressors that can turn your brain to jell-o and can even kill you, quickly or slow but sure?  Simple ways to “chill” your body and mind anytime anywhere without anyone knowing, using scientifically validated techniques that have been practiced for hundreds of years? Would you give it a shot?

I’m no guru, but I have managed to learn how to handle things pretty well most of the time.

Four Easy Essentials

“Mindfulness” is the airy-fairy mystical-sounding rage, but it’s nothing more than being fully aware of something and staying focused on that one thing. Hit File Delete for all the other noise.

It takes little time to practice and learn four essentials that work together: Focus, Breathing, Posture, Routine. Kids easily embrace Chillin’, but most adults have a lot of catching up to do and bad habits to unlearn. It’s OK to ease into it, you can learn the mechanics one at a time. Just don’t lose interest if magical results are not immediate.

(Essential One) Focus–Mental Discipline. An undisciplined mind can be a dictator–chaotic, unruly, a bb in a boxcar. Find a focusing aid, ONE thing to direct your thoughts at: the right music (a couple of examples follow) a physical object, or one thought in particular. My favorite easy Chill routine is the right music in the background while staring into a candle flame, focusing on just the flame, then adding a little mindful breathing. Five minutes can do wonders.

It helps for starters if you’re in the right environment with few distractions, but later you’ll be able to focus enough to block out the distractions around you anytime, anywhere. Just don’t chill so much you snooze in a board meeting.

(Essential Two) Breathing. You know how to breathe already but it’s a little different when you’re in Chill mode. First, focus on every breath—in through your nose, out through your mouth. Use your mental discipline to focus on speed and depth. Park your mind on nothing but breathing…it’s your first focal point! Slow, controlled deep, breaths. It will eventually become second nature.

Most people think their chests should puff way out when they’re deep breathing. Aim lower! With your hand on your diaphragm—middle of your chest just under your breast bone, above your tummy—slowly fill your lungs to maximum capacity. As you breathe in you should feel your stomach push out (no worries…it will go back down!). Deep breathing and singing from the diaphragm is used by accomplished singers because they get more power and control and are able to sing longer phrases. I’m not “accomplished” but I’ve been told by real pros that it works.

(Essential Three) Posture. Your spine is the superhighway for your nervous system and all of your energy flow. I can testify–the spine is critical.

Except for a (really) old football injury, the only back problem I’ve ever had was a few years ago, a nagging muscle issue. The chiropractor probed each vertebrae on both sides of my spine. He finally pressed on one wing and my right arm went totally dead. My back / muscle issue was rooted in the nerve flow regulated by one specific vertebrae wing. Easy fix.

You can get started right now. Lousy posture must be fashionable-quick check: how’s yours right now? Wherever / whenever you are sitting or standing, just straighten your spine! Add a little arms-up stretch and twist while you’re at it. If you’re like most you’re all hunched over and tensed up, and just that minimal movement will pop a few bones. It’s not just an old age thing.

A 10-minute daily yoga routine called The Five Tibetans is a simple stretching sequence that flexes and aligns the spine in the right order. Key words: stretch, flex, align, routine. Stay tuned.

(Essential Four) Routine, First Cousin to Discipline. An old football coach said “practice the way you want to play, because you play the way you practice.” Very zen for a jock in the 70’s but it holds true for sports, music, any hobby, relationships, anything.

Your first self-care session

Discipline / Focus, Breathing and Posture are all in play. This should quickly become a Routine for you. It won’t take long to learn or to realize immediate payback. You can do it any anytime anywhere, without anyone even knowing. If I have a particularly crazy group of students, I’ll do it. If my blood pressure is too high at the doctor’s I say “give me a couple minutes”. They come back, re-do my BP, it’s dropped 20 points. So here’s what you do….

Posture, alignment. Sit in a comfortable chair with your back straight, feet on the ground, thighs parallel to the ground. Rest your hands palm-down on your thighs. Option: cross-legged on the floor if you can. It worked for the Indians, full-blown lotus not required. It kills my ankles so, no. But your spine MUST be straight—that superhighway thing!

Control your breathing. Take slow and deep breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth. Check your diaphragm, it should be moving.

Focus. Close your eyes, focus on every breath—the changing sound of the nose>mouth in>out cycle, how the air feels coming in and going out, your stomach’s movement. Block out thoughts about anything else. Blocking may be rough at first—our minds are power-hungry dictators.

Expand your focus as you get more adept at this kind of breathing, graduating to “whole-body relaxation”. Become fully aware of your body one part at a time. Consciously relax that part. Focus on nothing but that part and how it feels as you fully relax it. On to another part, repeat.

Option to closing your eyes: use a specific focusing object to rest your eyes on. Don’t over-analyze the object, just rest your gaze on it and stay there. Let the object melt away, let your eyes glaze over. (it’s called spacing out, like most men I can do this in a heartbeat). Candle flame works great, but it’s a little awkward to light a candle in a high school classroom.

 

BONUS environmental elements: especially when you’re starting out, if you can choose your location a quiet and secluded, solitary place is ideal. Mood lighting (low) helps too.

Extra-extra bonus: music or white noise helps focus and minimizes noise distractions. Baroque = good. Rap and metal = bad. Anything with lyrics is distracting. Stay tuned for Chillin’ Music.

Let’s Talk a Little Yoga (very little)…The Five Tibetans

How scary is yoga? You’ve heard all about your kundalini and seen the workout vids, right? For most, “kundalini” is some kind of exotic liqueur. I’m 63. I used to be in good shape, athletic, active. But fitness hasn’t been high on my priority list for over a decade. I’ve never followed an exercise regimen of any kind, not even regularly walking. I have never ever obsessed over what I eat, just within reason…a heart attack tends to bring you down to earth. I guess I’m lucky. Maybe stupid. My no-exercise excuse besides no time: I hadn’t found the right routine for me.

I’ve always refused to consider contorting myself to the point of wondering whether I can untie my limbs from the crazy positions those yogis get into. And the Five Tibetans is traditional yoga. But I can easily do this routine. It’s a ten-minute sequence, longer only if you really get into it. But it will work wonders, and it’s scientifically validated to boost physical and emotional well-being. Confession: I need more discipline here!

Read the tutorial and get started easing into things now–linked above.

 

Music Therapy

The science of music therapy is amazing, its broad benefits are impressive and well-validated. It’s so fascinating that it’s tough just to focus on the relaxation aspect, but here goes.

Neuroscientists Discover a Song That Reduces Anxiety By 65 Percent. Excerpts:

Researchers at Mindlab International in the U.K. wanted to know what kind of music induces the greatest state of relaxation. The study involved having participants try to solve difficult puzzles — which inherently triggered a certain degree of stress — while connected to sensors. At the same time, participants listened to a range of songs as researchers measured their brain activity, heart rate, blood pressure and rate of breathing.

They found one song, “Weightless”, resulted in a striking 65 percent reduction in participants’ overall anxiety, and a 35 percent reduction in their usual physiological resting rates.

Interestingly, the song was specifically designed to induce this highly relaxed state. Created by Marconi Union, the musicians teamed up with sound therapists to carefully arrange harmonies, rhythms and bass lines, which in turn slow a listener’s heart rate and blood pressure, while also lowering stress hormones like cortisol.

DOUBLE-DIPPER APPLICATION. Some people need structure or it’s not a “real” song. But sound of any kind is magical. Watch and listen in a quiet and soothing environment, staying focused on the sounds and graphics. And while you’re at it, do your controlled breathing. They’re meant to work together. Weightless, 8min version 

That’s it for now. If you like what you see or have your own favorite routine, leave a response or drop a line craig.althof@gmail.com Please remember…the whole point is to make this as non-intimidating and accessible to regular people as possible. No voodoo, no dead language incantations, no over-the-top spirituality. Just some everyday Chill.

Live Long and Prosper-A Vulcan History Lesson

Logic is the cement of our civilization, with which we ascend from chaos using reason as our guide.” – T’Plana-Hath, Matron of Vulcan Philosophy

Vulcan history is a long journey from ancient civil wars that nearly destroyed Vulcan, to their embracing of logic through the teachings of Surak. Why did Spock’s home planet Vulcan turn its back on emotions in deference to logic?

Vulcans were once barbaric, war-like and “nearly killing themselves off with their own passions“. As half-human Spock put it “Vulcan, like Earth, had its aggressive, colonizing period; savage even by Earth standards. There was a time in the past when we were an extremely violent race. We nearly destroyed ourselves. Paranoia and homicidal rage were common.” A small group of early Vulcans, reported to be liberals, began to mentally train themselves to suppress their emotions.

None too soon. Vulcan was tearing itself apart. Rampant emotions and a hostile warrior culture led to many widespread wars using terrible weapons like atomic bombs and the Stone of Gol. But the philosopher Surak made a radical proposition: lead a life governed by logic rather than emotion. His teachings showed Vulcans a path towards peace and they quickly spread. Spock reflected on the shift to logic: “We were once wildly emotional, committed to irrationally opposing points of view, leading, of course, to death and destruction. Only the discipline of logic saved my planet from extinction.

Vulcans are not natural paragons of emotionless logic. They are actually far too emotional for their own good. Their natural disposition is quite earthly human: erratic, volatile and quick to anger. So they go to great lengths to suppress their natural feelings with disciplined mind control. The Vulcan embracing of logic includes an iron discipline about feelings – an almost Buddhist extermination of the ego, freeing the person from illogical emotional impulses.

Spock was only half-Vulcan, the offspring of a human schoolteacher and a Vulcan father. This created a deep, ongoing and powerful conflict between logic and emotion, described by Earth counterpart Leonard Nimoy as … “struggling to maintain a Vulcan attitude, a Vulcan philosophical posture and a Vulcan logic, opposing what was fighting him internally, which was human emotion.”

Of my friend, I can only say this: of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most… human. (Kirk’s eulogy for Spock)

The Vulcan culture survived and thrived. End of history lesson.

(Two sources for Vulcan history: http://memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/Vulcan_history  and http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/features/the-vulcan-way-how-to-live-long-and-prosper-1672660.html

Is There a Lesson?

Earth is embroiled in civilization-threatening conflict. The dark side of our emotional human nature is becoming more and more dominant with greed, power-grabbing, corruption, indifference to others, brutal killings, senseless wars that are somehow always logically or morally justified.

But the Vulcan civilization survived a similar crisis and thrived. What can we learn from our distant homo sapiens cousins? Must we also banish emotions in deference to logic?

Earth’s humans face a dual threat: 1) rampant emotions and whacked out values fueling phobias and paranoia, hatred, bigotry, “me first” nationalism; and 2) blunt-force logic: cold, calculating, it’s-only-business, inhuman disregard for others in deference to profit, possessions  and power.

There’s a significant difference between Earth’s and Vulcan’s strain of homo sapiens. Our issue is more complex than Vulcans faced. Earth’s science community has determined that social-emotional attributes are what makes Earth humans human. Our emotional, impulsive, intuitive side is our redeeming quality, but it may also become our downfall.

Human emotion is as essential to our survival as the physical environment. We thrive on intangibles like sense of purpose, living by our values, healthy personal relationships, belonging / being part of a strong community. As social well-being has been found to intertwine with physical well-being these are critical to sustaining the species. It’s also been verified that social-emotional well-being drives achievement and success, as well as physical health and longevity.

But there’s a down side to strong emotions rooted in the way the brain and body interact.

Emotional input or negative experiences trigger a highly sensitized involuntary fear response that is so strong it can block out logical thought. These negative external stimuli can trigger brain trauma which causes the involuntary reactions due to our “fight or flee” instinct.  A traumatized brain can be a tired, hungry, worried, rejected, or detached brain which causes a person to have feelings of isolation, worry, angst, and fear.

When a threat, either real or perceived, is felt the brain and body both prioritize survival. Both go through changes to enable rapid scanning for physical warning signs and emotional signals of unsafe conditions.  We react to signals physiologically, our irritated limbic system increases blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration with an excessive secretion of stimuli—cortisol and adrenaline—pumping through our bodies.

We’ve long known about the potential physical damage from stress responses. Chronic activation of this fear response can damage parts of the brain as well as the body due to elevated stress levels. While humans are naturally social creatures that thrive on and crave social connection and attachment to others, if we encounter physical or emotional danger problem solving, reflection, and emotional regulation are compromised and diminished.

(Brain theory information is from Brains in Pain Cannot Learn! )

So, What’s a Human To Do?

For humans, our emotions are a good thing. We cannot survive without them. But an over-leveraged strength can become a weakness. So, how do we embrace our emotional strengths while keeping them in check? Mindfulness and meditation, even at a very basic level, can do wonders. So can rediscovering our true selves (purpose values, norms, belonging…). But body and mind are one system. So don’t forget the bean sprouts. And sensible exercise too. It’s not all esoteric pixie dust.

Humanity’s struggle to harness our emotions is a matter of species survival. Thankfully, there is a broad and potentially powerful awakening underway. Live long and prosper ….indeed! As Spock would exclaim, with one pointed eyebrow raised for added emphasis…. “Fascinating!”

To do or not to do what? That is the Activist’s Question

So much of this latest learning journey is brand new to me, it’s complex and a steep learning curve. If you have the interest, time and stamina please help me crawl up this incline. There are a lot of links to major resources below, hence the “stamina” thing. To fully grasp all of this will take a good deal of time and deep thought, but I hope you’ll join in the fun. Could be a wild ride once we get to the top and take off, although this is probably more like a never-ending adventure than a destination.

Adam Blakester of Starfish Initiatives notes that there are many more commentators offering opinions than activists willing to commit to a course of action. From Adam: “…we need more people to take on active roles/work in leading and/or supporting the great transition. Such roles are far more involved than recycling and going solar, as important as they are. Such roles are about influencing greater changes, creating solutions, new systems and knowledge, building capacity and a zillion more things.

In other words, more hands to the tiller and less arm-chair commentators and experts…being a good or better consumer is nowhere near enough.

Personal testimony–it’s far too easy to fall short of what’s needed: deeply committed hands-on activism. We’re collectively more aware, more concerned. But it’s far too common and more comfortable to stay at that first level—awareness, concern and some degree of doing stuff. For most, self included, it’s a matter of perceived constraints. How much can the average person do?

”I’d love to change the world, but I don’t know what to do. So I’ll leave it up to you”. (1971-Ten Years After)

Epiphany! That attitude is old-world and must go.

Changing the things we do is critical-we’re at a worldwide environmental tipping point. But “thing changes” are superficial and unsustainable if the underlying attitudes, belief systems, habits and support systems, policies, practices do not change. And not just among a group of wild-eyed, bushy-haired “activists” but among the general population. A tall order that needs a deeply committed activist or two.

I am passionate about making an impact and I want to commit to action. It so happens that my passion has always been social change so I guess I’m an anomaly. Specifically, I’m envisioning a sustainable social –emotional infrastructure that will give humanity a fighting chance to survive and maybe thrive. While my initial emphasis is young people, kids are not born intolerant or bigoted. Those are acquired values, so there must also be a concerted effort to impact adult biases—the effort must be systemic, must reach all ages in all sectors–education, home, workplace, communities, society, government. Whew….another fine mess.

Exploring Mr. Blakester’s Starfish organization led me to the Great Transition Initiative.  and prompted me to write a GTI summary post –I won’t go into detail about GTI any further here beyond this purpose statement:

The Great Transition Initiative is an online forum of ideas and an international network for the critical exploration of concepts, strategies, and visions for a transition to a future of enriched lives, human solidarity, and a resilient biosphere. By enhancing scholarly discourse and public awareness of possibilities arising from converging social, economic, and environmental crises, and by fostering a broad network of thinkers and doers, it aims to contribute to a new praxis for global transformation.

I fully buy into GTI’s current global state assessment and its vision of a feasible preferred future, mostly because that future is the only one that gives us a chance. In GTI’s constellation of values, my passion is human solidarity. My lifetime vision: a catalyst role in a broad greater good movement (Adam’s term for this is “care for the commons”) to rediscover our humanity, which to me is a social survival and planetary sustainability issue of the highest importance. We can partially repair our torn social fabric with common threads of purpose, shared values, social norms…in other words by collectively re-connecting with our humanity. Vehicle of choice: social-emotional learning (SEL).

That big hairy vision is not as far-fetched or out of reach as it may sound.

OBJECTIVE

Build a Fourth Sector social structure with systemic emphasis on the attributes known to promote higher levels of engagement therefore greater social and emotional well-being and performance excellence. (RE Fourth Sector–see diagram 2 from the Fourth Sector organization )

I’ve taught social-emotional learning in grades 4-6. Too academic, too teachy, too canned to grab kids by their emotions, to hit their hearts and get in their heads. Needed: self-discovery and reflection / experiential learning (learn from unlearning…a whole ‘nother ballgame but related).

Education is inundated with demands—STEM, common core, standard test performance. It’s not lack of interest as much as it is lack of bandwidth to be serious about SEL. Conclusion: a purely academic SEL pathway is not feasible. Rather, a partner resource for the education establishment could provides much-needed adjunct services and support. The resource would also build general awareness and be catalyst for a systemic all-stakeholder community environment that supports social-emotional development. Enter the Caring Communities Collaborative (model-diagram 1), a conceptual framework that’s been evolving over the last several years.

Meaningful Work

A recurring parallel theme kept jumping out in my new learning journey—meaningful work:

Our mad rush to accumulate wealth and a standard of living through material things and conspicuous consumption has degraded quality of life and endangered the sustainability of humanity. The way out: “create an environmentally and socially sustainable future that provides decent, meaningful work for all.”

(The Struggle for Meaningful WorkKent Klitgaard February 2017) 

Blakester responded to Klitgaard’s article, be sure to read his thoughts if you (WHEN you!) read The Struggle.  In my opinion, priority focus is not on “work” but “meaningful”. How do people find their purpose, their calling, their One Thing? Once people understand what is truly important to them, they will be thirsty and will demand that thirst is quenched. Services, structures, systems will emerge much more readily out of necessity, driven by demand.  

WHY SEL First?

Social-emotional learning is a vastly powerful and necessary force; it is the enabler of skills development and high achievement. “Really?” This is all backed up by a huge body of research….

The higher the S-E level, the more physical health and emotional well-being increases. Hard costs incurred from the broad spectrum of physical and mental health problems drop, as do related but harder-to-measure social costs. The quality of the workforce talent pool increases and the private sector’s bottom line improves in key measures like productivity, turnover, absenteeism, attrition.

Community prosperity follows private sector prosperity.

In education, higher levels of attainment and achievement are realized by more highly engaged learners. Costs associated with “problem students”—absenteeism and disciplinary issues drop.

Education, workplace and community excellence are directly impacted by mean, uncaring people, conflict and stress.  And one effect of rude, intolerant people is bullying in school and the workplace. The ultimate effect…violent acts against others and self-inflicted harm, up to suicide.

Economic growth requires increased productivity, which in turn requires a better educated, more highly trained and skilled population. The kicker: for people to fully develop their skills and embrace training, it must be meaningful and relevant to them…they must be fully engaged. The enabler: a community of lifelong learners with a high level of social-emotional well-being.

The Caring Communities Collaborative Model (diagram 1)

 

Diagram 2: from the Fourth Sector organization

Convergence toward a fourth sector, of the best from private, public, non-profit sectors

We can and must get back in touch with what makes us human beings We can and must re-connect with our natural Selves. We can and must re-connect with others and with the world around us. It’s not just our happiness, it’s our survival that’s at stake.

We are stardust, we are golden. We are billions-year-old carbon. And we’ve got to find our way back to the garden.

 

Global Sustainability–The Great Transition Initiative

Sometimes I accidentally stumble across a well-hidden door to a mysterious building. Construction is not always tenant-ready but some dwellings are occupied. Others have completed their entire life cycle and are ready for demolition. The most recent door is to an in-process project–the Great Transition Initiative, and one specific essay in particular from the GTI website on meaningful work. A two- tweetworthy excerpt of the Great Transition Initiative (GTI) narrative from the meaningful work essay:

Our mad rush to accumulate wealth and a standard of living through material things and conspicuous consumption has degraded quality of life and endangered the sustainability of humanity. The way out: “create an environmentally and socially sustainable future that provides decent, meaningful work for all.” (The Struggle for Meaningful WorkKent Klitgaard February 2017) 

A Great Transition is needed. We have maxxed out the earth’s capacity to support humanity, moving  dangerously close to or past the hard limitations of every critical resource needed to sustain the species—water, food, land, air.

Social sustainability may be even tougher to achieve. The Great Transition Initiative  explores the future Klitgaard references. This essay looks only at what and why. The more challenging “how” including meaningful work is later.

GTI first started taking shape a quarter century ago, and their message and approach resonates with me. Their assessment of the current global state and vision of a desired future, as well as the issues and concerns driving the initiative all align with what had been percolating in my head for some time. My goal for this post is to do what I can to promote the cause, we need a vast grass roots movement. As this is important stuff. I hope this short summary will push you to the GTI project.

This is also selfishly motivated. GTI is new to me, and this will help me to better understand the issues, the framework, and where I might fit in. Lots to explore, lots of opportunity for all of us.

About that pesky rubber-hits-the-road “how”:

(1) Meaningful applies not just to work but to the  development of young people and older folk alike, and to lifelong learning and growth. Humanity has lost its mojo—stay tuned.

(2) Engagement theory and the connection to social-emotional well-being, productivity and personal achievement holds great potential.  Leveraging attributes across-the-board for all stakeholders that enable people to more fully engage is a critical “how” in the great transition. See Supercharging Engagement.  Also, Supporting data.

CREDIT WHERE DUE! Italics are excerpts taken directly from GTI. 

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Where are we?

“Great transition” refers to a set of core concepts for understanding the contemporary world and shaping its future.

We’re a frog in a water-filled saucepan that’s slowly heating up on the stove top. We’ll be boiled alive before it registers that a life-threatening change is slowly taking place and we really should consider hopping out. The stage has been set for a potentially deadly clash of radically changed current state vs deep-seated past perspectives and practices. Something has to give.

GTI calls our current status the Planetary Phase of Civilization—the profound shift in the condition of society and the dynamics driving change: threads of interdependence—economic globalization, communications technology, and climate change are among the most salient—are binding people, places, and the wider community of life into a single social-ecological system.

These powerful forces are exerting all kinds of pressure on global systems. However….the worldviews and institutions of the past persist…counter-tendencies—local initiatives, post-consumerist subcultures, sustainability and justice campaigns, public awareness and concern, visions of another world—may portend a rising social force for addressing the systemic challenge of the Planetary Phase.

Operative word = “may” portend a rising social force. This isn’t something we can leave to chance.

Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run…..there’s still time to change the road you’re on (Zeppelin, of course)

Where are we going?

…contrasting paths into the future are possible, distinguished by the ways social-ecological crises and our collective response play out. These global scenarios fall broadly into three types: evolution, degeneration, and transformation.

(ONE) Evolution, Let It Play Out which quite likely would lead to degeneration. Basically doing the same old same old. Evolutionary / Conventional Worlds scenarios …incremental responses to 21st century challenges …free market solutions (aka: profit before people and planet, greed, corporate control, short-term focus on profit-earning action and results) and international cooperation for sustainable development (barrier: the uptick in populist movements, nationalism). However, the efficacy of market and policy adaptations is sharply constrained.

Translated: the probability of the same old same old working in this new global environment is slim to none. Or, per GTI:  a state-centric geopolitical order undercuts global imperatives, while the dominant development paradigm privileges profits over needs and economic growth over ecological resilience.

NOW                                   NEED

State-centric                       Global Imperatives

Profit                                   Need

Economic growth              Ecological resilience

 

The risk of evolutionary drift followed by catastrophic descent is all too real, yet by no means inevitable.

Where do we want to go? Make the Transition to Transformative

The only viable path toward sustainability and nothing less than survival of the species, is transitioning to a new paradigm redirecting the global trajectory toward a socially equitable, culturally enriched, and ecologically resilient planetary civilization. A walk in the park, right?

Very Macro “HOW”

Individualism to Human Solidarity

Consumerism to Quality of Life

Domination of Nature to Ecological Sensibility

  1.  The ascent of a constellation of values—human solidarity, quality of life, and ecological sensibility—to moderate (neutralize or eliminate are more appropriate words, but “moderate” is a start) the conventional triad of individualism, consumerism, and domination of nature.
  2.   Upon this normative foundation, governance and economic institutions can be redesigned to balance the imperatives for unity and diversity, to nurture social cohesion and eradicate destitution, and to support human well-being and a vibrant natural world.

Which is the toughest challenge–(1) to fundamentally change human nature and our core values / social norms?  Or (2) to change the strongly entrenched power base of systems and structures? Regarding the first challenge, humans are rabid about protecting the core of who they are and what they believe. Second challenge…those in economic and political power are violently protective of their gravy train. No rose-colored glasses. This isn’t a no-brainer.

OK…so how about what needs to come first—change people (1)  or change systems / structure, policies / practices (2)? My opinion: If you try to change something while retaining old mental models, perspectives, paradigms, values and norms you’ll go nowhere fast.

So, what would the Planetary Phase of Civilization look like?

Far from the end of history, a Great Transition would be alive with peaceful political contestation, cultural expression, and scientific exploration. Even as it opened a new and hopeful chapter in the story of civilization, a Great Transition would face the lingering scars and instabilities of a fading past and the unfathomable struggles of a distant future.

Maybe it’s out there but from what I’ve seen, the GTI project could use a stronger, clearer, more compelling narrative that everyday people will readily embrace. Create the case for change then build a critical mass of awareness and commitment. Schein’s burning platform works for me: if people are leery of making a blind leap of faith toward the new world, set the old world on fire (in a manner of speaking, not advocating arson!).

I am driven to further the GTI cause by boosting awareness in my own meek and minor way, to help make it absolutely clear that it’s life-threatening for the frogs to stay in the pan of water on the stove. To make the case abundantly compelling that to continue in this current reality is certain disaster and will eventually lead to certain extinction. That should be a pretty solid dose of WIIFM.

There’s already a good deal of thought and effort by many to secure a decent future for mankind, on a planet that we haven’t totally messed up.

The big need is grass roots…1) awareness and concern; 2) committed, involved activism-grassroots implies effort from many; 3) collaborative effort, synergy. Too many splintered initiatives can be counter-productive…where do I start, what do I do, who and what can I believe in? And 4) a sense of urgency to change the path we’re headed down.

There’s already a good deal of thought and effort by many to secure a decent future for mankind, on a planet that we haven’t totally messed up.

The big need is grass roots…1) awareness and concern; 2) committed, involved activism-grassroots implies effort from many; 3) collaborative effort, synergy. Too many splintered initiatives can be counter-productive…where do I start, what do I do, who and what can I believe in? And 4) a sense of urgency to change the path we’re headed down.

If you hear the calling share the word about GTI and find your own well-hidden door you’re your own mysterious building. We must build broad awareness by lots of people dropping pebbles into their own little pond. Ripple Power, baby!

Next Up: more in-depth how as proposed by the GTI project.

The 14 Defining Characteristics Of Fascism

Free Inquiry Spring 2003 5-11-3

Note date of the piece: 2003. These characteristics are common among several of the heavy-hitter fascist regimes. A few current examples have been added in parenths after some of the points; there are too many to capture. Add some of your own. Particularly  timely passages have been underlined too.

Dr. Lawrence Britt has examined the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia) and several Latin American regimes. Britt found 14 defining characteristics common to each:

  1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism – Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays. (Make America Great Again; America First; Build the Wall)
  1. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights – Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of “need.” The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc. (The Ban; Defunding Planned Parenthood, waterboarding)
  1. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause – The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial, ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.(Islamophobia, white nationalism, entire campaign run on hate and high emotion)
  1. Supremacy of the Military – Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.
  1. Rampant Sexism – The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution.
  1. Controlled Mass Media – Sometimes media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.
  1. Obsession with National Security – Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.
  1. Religion and Government are Intertwined – Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government’s policies or actions.
  1. Corporate Power is Protected – The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.
  1. Labor Power is Suppressed – Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.
  1. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts – Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked.(Gutting the National Endowments, no more NPR funding, fed and state levels)
  1. Obsession with Crime and Punishment – Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.
  1. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption – Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders. (Control of fed lands to states, for privatization and profiteering)
  1. Fraudulent Elections – Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.

 

Why Alternative Ed? Is there more to the story?

For those who have been around the block with alternative education this article will be old news, or maybe just an affirmation. But I’m a neophyte and for others like me this information is extremely vital. I know that putting this together has helped me understand. So this is my small offering of sharing information at a level that newbies like me can grasp.

Why is this such a hot issue? Given the current state of traditional education and the economy’s and private sector’s need for a better qualified workforce with the right skills, and given our social unraveling it is painfully clear: we need to fundamentally change our approach to education. Self-directed learning is a more viable means to address issues than traditional education. But there’s more: we need to expand  our scope to “human development”.

Social and economic issues are a nasty one-two punch threatening to demolish our way of life; we’re being torn apart from the inside with apathy and disengagement at one extreme, modern lifestyle stress and related social-emotional health problems at the other. We are disconnected from each other, from the environment around us, from ourselves. We’re in desperate need of social healing and personal alignment. But who has time for all that?

Self-directed learning only addresses part of the problem and only for young people. The way things are imploding there’s no guarantee things we can hold it together long enough to give future generations a shot at making things better.

Proposed: self-directed learning on steroids.  Whole-person / whole-life learning, continuous whole-person growth…human development. Focus on the front end. To assure quality of outputs you must ensure the inputs are good, then pay attention to process itself. Develop the providers of whole-person / whole life learning, pay attention to the human needs of those providers, and engineer a robust process of human development.

One tiny example: there are fitness centers for health nuts and regular people concerned with their physical wellness. How about centers where people can learn about their social-emotional / mental health and do a regular exercise regimen? Think about a place where a person can reconnect, chill, detox from a stressed out lifestyle. How about a full indoor ecosystem (fancy word for greenhouse) to get a few precious moments of real, plant-purified air, walk barefoot in real grass (earthing) and get drunk on the sounds of nature and soothing stroke of solitude?

I could go on and on. But right now this human development stuff is just a Quixote-esque pipedream for me. Something I can do to contribute: critical mass and increasing evidence of success is great PR. We need to spread the gospel of self-directed learning and human development, and convince the powers that be and the general population. Then, of course, implementation support must be readily available. That’s a whole ‘nother story….

So what follows is a primer for self-directed learning based upon Why Our Coercive System of Schooling Should Topple by Peter Gray which outlines four reasons Self-Directed Education will replace forced schooling. They are compelling. Below: the four reasons with a few of my thoughts–please add yours! Later are some article excerpts. Highly recommended: go to the original for the full text.

Four Reasons, and Reflections

  1.  Our coercive schools have become increasingly and evermore obviously harmful to kids. My most compelling personal mission: find some way to impact young peoples’ emotional well-being. Far too many young people are struggling emotionally, medicated and otherwise being “treated”, needing “special” education services, committing suicide. A national epidemic and a disgrace. The education system is to blame to a large degree, the system MUST change.

WE ARE CAUSING SERIOUS and IRREVOCABLE DAMAGE TO OUR YOUNG PEOPLE!

  1.  Evidence has mounted that children and adolescents can educate themselves remarkably well without coercive schooling. Further, learners show markedly better results than traditionally educated kids. And there is no comparison between the level of social-emotional well-being: fewer kids diagnosed with “learning disabilities”, fewer kids needing meds or other treatment. It hasn’t been measured but it’s a simple causal link: kids are more well-adjusted, less stressed = fewer suicides. It has been proven: SDL CAN be done with great results.
  1.  Self-Directed Education is easier to pursue now than it was in the past. For various reasons,

SDE has struggled to gain broad acceptance. Two biggies: to too many it’s weird and for most it takes too much time. But results and success has led to growing acceptance, even among educators. And more championing centers have emerged, giving parents much-needed support.

It’s becoming MORE ACCEPTABLE and ACCESSIBLE. Not mainstream, but working on it!

  1.  Changes in the economy favor the skills developed by Self-Directed Education. The workplace demands thinkers, not memorizers. It demands employees who can adapt to changes and quickly accept and learn new things. It requires confidence as well as competence. When comparing traditional and SD education, it’s clear that only one system builds those things, while the other may actually discourage them. The “customers” are learners, parents, private sector, society. SDE meets customer needs

Excerpts From the Original

  1.  Our coercive schools have become increasingly and evermore obviously harmful to kids.

…over the years, the school system has intruded increasingly, and ever more disruptively, into children’s and families’ lives.  The length of the school year has increased (it now averages 5 weeks longer than in the 1950s).  The number of years of required attendance has increased.  The amount of homework has increased immensely, especially in elementary schools.  Recesses have been reduced, or even been eliminated…art and music have regularly been dropped from curricula in favor of more time for worksheets and test preparation.  Teachers have been given less freedom to depart from the standard curriculum, and ever-greater pressure has been placed on children to score high on standardized tests.

Children now often spend more time at school and at homework than their parents spend at their full-time jobs…

It can no longer be believed that schooling is a benign experience for children.  The evidence that it induces pathology is overwhelming.  (evidence in original)

  1.  Evidence has mounted that children and adolescents can educate themselves remarkably well without coercive schooling.

Over the last few decades, many thousands of young people, from a wide range of backgrounds, have educated themselves through these means, and follow-up studies have shown that they are doing very well in life. They have had no apparent difficulty being admitted to or adjusting to the demands of traditional higher education, if they choose to pursue it, and they have been successful in the full range of careers that we value in our society.  As adults, they generally report that their experience with Self-Directed Education benefited them by allowing them to develop their own interests (which often turned into careers) and fostering…personal responsibility, initiative, creativity, curiosity, critical thinking, and ability to communicate well with people regardless of status.

… partly because of increased awareness of the success of Self-Directed Education and partly because of the growing toxicity of coercive schools, evermore families are choosing Self-Directed Education for their children.  As more families are choosing it, more others are getting to know people who have chosen it and can see firsthand the evidence of its success.  At some point, when everyone sees the evidence, the gates will open and the coercive schools will begin to empty out.  People will begin to demand that some of the public funds currently spent on coercive schools be spent on learning centers and other facilities that support Self-Directed Education, so all families, regardless of income, will have that option.

  1.  Self-Directed Education is easier to pursue now than it was in the past.

One reason for this lies in the increased numbers of families taking this route and, consequently, the increased acceptability of Self-Directed Education in the culture at large.  The availability of schools and learning centers designed for Self-Directed Education has been increasing, and the number of homeschoolers engaged in Self-Directed Education has likewise been increasing.  As Self-Directed Education becomes more common, as more and more people, including education authorities, know young people taking this route and see their success, the social barriers against it are decreasing.

Another reason: technologyanyone with a computer and Internet connection can access essentially all the world’s information.  Self-directed learners who want to pursue almost any subject can find articles, videos, discussion groups, and even online courses devoted to it.  They can gain information and share thoughts with experts and novices alike, throughout the world, who have interests akin to theirs.  Students in standard schools must study just what the school dictates, in just the ways that the school decides; but self-directed learners can find subjects and means of study that match their own particular interests and styles of learning.  Self-directed learners are not held back by the slow pace of a school course, nor are they rushed ahead when they want more time to think about and delve deeply into any given aspect of the interest they’re pursuing.

  1.  Changes in the economy favor the skills developed by Self-Directed Education.

Because of changes in how we make our livings, the skills exercised by coercive schooling are even less valuable, and those exercised by Self-Directed Education are even more valuable, now than they were in the past.  We don’t need people who can memorize and regurgitate lots of information; we have Google for that.  We don’t need many people to do routine, tedious tasks dictated by others; we have robots for that.

What we do need, and will continue to need, are people who think critically and creatively, innovate, ask and answer questions that nobody else has thought of, and bring moral values and a passionate sense of purpose into the workplace.  These are the kinds of skills that are continuously honed in Self-Directed Education.  In coercive schools, the requirement that everyone follow the same curriculum, motivated by reward and punishment rather than genuine interest, guarantees that most students will not develop passionate interests, deep understanding, or a sense of purpose other than that of making it through the next hoop.

A Few Final Thoughts From Gray

  • “…these are all good reasons why our forced system of schooling should topple soon; but will it topple soon?”   Yes, it will, because it really is reaching the end of the line.
  • Much of the increased odiousness of school has come about precisely because of the increased recognition that our schools are failing.  Stupidly, in recent times we’ve tried to “fix” the schools by doing more of what doesn’t work.  But that can’t go on forever.
  • The revolution will come not because authorities within the coercive school system become enlightened, but because a growing number of families who are victims of that system will realize that they have an option—a good option—and they will take it.

Let’s not just wait for that social change to occur; let’s push it along.  Let’s develop an organized movement to inform people about this option and how they can pursue it.  That’s the purpose of a new nonprofit organization that I’m a part of, the Alliance for Self-Directed Education.  Maybe you’d like to join it.